How Do I Recognize Spiritual Attack In My Marriage?
Chris Grace: Welcome to another Art of Relations podcast, it's good to have you. Tim, we've been spending some time talking about spiritually defending your marriage and the ability for an enemy to come in and disrupt that which is a very close, intimate relationship that we have with another person in our marriages and even in our relationships.
Chris Grace: So, it's been a great topic, and it's a tough one because there's a lot of debate out there, and a lot of misinformation and then you can kind of fall on one of two sides, we talked about. Either over emphasizing this or under emphasizing this. So I look forward to talking more about it.
Tim Muehlhoff: And, don't you think, Chris, that a lot of mistakes modern Christians make, it's not that we attribute everything to him, but that most Christian marriages don't attribute anything to Satan. And Satan's not a blip on the screen.
Tim Muehlhoff: What I find fascinating, Chris, is that roughly 25% of everything Jesus said to do with spiritual battle. So it was a regular topic for him, and he did not shy away from the fact that this is a world in spiritual battle is happening, and that couples need to realize marriage doesn't happen on a romantic balcony, but rather on a spiritual battlefield.
Chris Grace: It does, and Tim, the amount of time spent, literally almost every author in the Bible in the New Testament talked about this idea, the reality of a spiritual warfare, right? Paul elaborates on it in many different places.
Chris Grace: But, literally every book in there, it was just clear that this was an accepted reality and the world hasn't changed all that much.
Tim Muehlhoff: But that's evident. Chris, if we watched the news. If you just take a look at headlines, it's just obvious that something is wrong with the world today. That politics can fix, economics can't fix, but it feels as though there is a war happening.
Tim Muehlhoff: And we're kind of caught in the crossfire, and that's a biblical view of what's happening in the world today.
Chris Grace: Yeah, so let's continue the conversation, talking a little bit about different ways that Satan approaches this and that we then can be more aware of this battle in our own marriages and in relationships.
Tim Muehlhoff: So, in researching this topic, I was really curious. How can you definitively know, this is a spiritual attack or just, Marin and I having a bad day or if the kids are having a bad day, or you and your colleague at work? It's just a bad day and human beings rub each other the wrong way sometimes.
Tim Muehlhoff: But, how can you tell if they're spiritual attacks? Or, Chris, I read about 40 books on spiritual battle, and I wanted to see, were there signs of the demonic that everybody mentioned?
Chris Grace: Right.
Tim Muehlhoff: And I came up with a top five list that made everybody's list. I also have an honorable mention list we can kind of kick around, but before we get to the top five, we have to answer a really frightening question for many people. And that is, is it possible for Satan to plant thoughts in your mind?
Chris Grace: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: And, most of the illusions I've read assert that, in fact, Satan can do that. He can't read your mind. But he can plant thoughts. Now, what's the biblical evidence for that? Well, I think there is evidence in the Old Testament and New Testament.
Tim Muehlhoff: For example, in the Old Testament, we learned that Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel, that's 1st Chronicles. Now, it may seem wise for a king to take census of his troops, troop strength.
Tim Muehlhoff: But what the Scriptures say is that he had put his trust in the army and not God. But, he was insighted to take a census for the wrong reasons, by Satan. And then, we also see that in the New Testament we see that Satan is able to put the idea of betrayal into the heart of Judas, and greed into the mind of Ananias to lie about an amount that he had given as an offering to the church. That's Acts chapter 5.
Tim Muehlhoff: We even get evidence that Jesus had thoughts planted in his mind by Satan. For example, in the wilderness tempting, Satan is taken to the top of a mountain and shown all the splendor of Earthly kingdoms by Satan. Now, theologians will note that on that small mountain top, he couldn't see all the kingdoms.
Tim Muehlhoff: Right? But Satan was able to give him a panoramic view of all the kingdoms of the world, past, present, future, and that's what Jesus was looking at. Satan was able to even plant thoughts into the mind of Jesus. So, we do think that Satan can plant thoughts of anger, betrayal, jealousy, greed, things like that.
Tim Muehlhoff: So, that's important because when we get to the top five list, we're gonna see that a lot of them have to do with thoughts that we have.
Chris Grace: Yeah, and I think, too, Tim, and when you spend time reading in this area, you recognize again that, that kind of craftiness. We also recognize there are limits, right? To Satan's capacities and abilities, he's not omnipresent, he's not everywhere at once. He's not like God in that way.
Chris Grace: And yet he has hosts of people and fallen angels, and they can, very well do his bidding. And so each of us, while maybe not directly confronted by Satan himself are, on a regular basis dealing with enemies of Jesus and enemies of God, who have fallen and in the spiritual realm.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, two great points. It's a great point to say that Satan's not omnipresent, he's not everywhere. So, we kind of use that term kind of in a loose way. So, Satan most likely isn't dealing with your marriage, right? You probably don't rank that high on the hit list.
Tim Muehlhoff: Most likely, it's a demon that's doing that. And we do know that Satan's kind of localized. Being from Michigan, I know he's localizing Columbus, Ohio, the home of Ohio State, which we know are Satan's spawn. So, but, as probably, I digress a little bit.
Chris Grace: Quite a bit.
Tim Muehlhoff: As I, well-. I have a lot of evidence, Chris, that he lives there, very often. But, okay, so what are the top five?
Tim Muehlhoff: If you read 40 books on spiritual battle, what would be signs that would come up in everybody's book? So here's the very first sign of the demonic, is that you where Ohio State paraphernalia. No, okay, I digress. Okay, here we go.
Tim Muehlhoff: The first one is inappropriate anger. Right? Paul says in Ephesians 4:26, in your anger do not sin. So, anger in itself can even be a righteous emotion, right? We get angry about things because it's righteous that we would get angry about it.
Tim Muehlhoff: But here, Paul's saying, but here you have been given full vent to your anger. Your anger has turned inward or it's turned outward towards a person, and that is harming your relationship with that person. So, this is inappropriate anger towards yourself or another person.
Chris Grace: Yeah, and I think that's what that emotion of anger does, Tim. Anger becomes a very selfish emotion because now you've turned very much inward, you're dealing with almost an overwhelming sense of feeling. But, what it does is it colors our perceptions, and so therefore everything that a spouse is doing is wrong or bad during those times.
Chris Grace: So we misinterpret their behaviors oftentimes, and I think that's a pretty common and well found psychological behavior of the role of anger can underly so many of our perceptions and views of another person. And so, therefore, you are now interpreting or misinterpreting a lot of the other person.
Tim Muehlhoff: You know, Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 7:9, he says, "Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit." And so, what happens is, right? Everything you do provokes me. And that's what you're saying is that this anger overwhelms you and now you no longer think good thoughts about your spouse or a child or a coworker and every-.
Tim Muehlhoff: We've been there, right, Chris? Every single thing your spouse does bugs you.
Chris Grace: Yup.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's a sign that maybe Satan is, and, by the way there may be things that your spouse does that provokes you that needs to be talked about, but Satan is using that provocation. Wanting it to cement, and as you said, color everything. So if you find yourself just overwhelmed with anger, right?
Tim Muehlhoff: And we've all had that. You can't even go to sleep at night 'cause you're so angry at a person. That's really a good sign that Satan is getting a foothold, he's stoking the fires of anger, and that's when I would take action.
Chris Grace: I think that's so good, Tim. You know, going back to Ephesians 4, that 31. Listen to how many times he uses a variation of the word anger.
Chris Grace: "Let all bitterness," which, anger not dealt with, anger that is given root and allows to grow turns into bitterness. So, "Let bitterness," Watch this. "And wrath, and anger, and clamor, and slander, along with all malice," how many words could he use for? [crosstalk 00:09:16]. Put that off, and so Tim you're right, that is really an important sign.
Chris Grace: And for couples who are dealing with this, most of the time it's something that's manageable, but sometimes, Tim, this anger can get to a point where it's just really leads into some very bad things. And that's where couples that are struggling with, it turns into physical violence or verbal abuse.
Chris Grace: We've talked about that in other podcasts, they need to seek immediate professional help, and not be, yeah, call it a spiritual warfare battle but there's also some other things going on that you need help with in this relationship.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, I totally agree with that. All right, the next one. A sense of impending doom.
Chris Grace: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: So, due to financial pressures, potential parenting issues, disagreements, unexpected health issues, all marriages go through anxiety producing stretches. Of course, what if one of our jobs gets axed? Are we saving enough? Are the kids making the right kind of friends? Will we ever be able to have children?
Tim Muehlhoff: All right, that's all normal. I get that. We live in anxious times. What these writers have talked about, these Christian writers who talk about spiritual battles is, this is a sense that we are gonna be doomed, right?
Tim Muehlhoff: If you don't get this promotion, we're done. If we give more money to church, it's gonna ruin our bank account. I know this is gonna be cancer, and if it's cancer I know I'm gonna die. So, you can't shake a sense of doom that has totally saturated you.
Chris Grace: Yeah, and Tim, from again, a psychological standpoint, anxiety is common and normal in everyday life. We just simply will deal with things. Here's that, what doom, if you wanna know more what that means, if means the inability to stop the cycle, thoughts to get out of this pattern of thinking.
Chris Grace: And so, it escalates and it spirals downward and at the bottom of that spiral is where you're coming up with this world doom. But what it means is, we just, I worry about this or I worry about that, but the inability to stop thinking about that is when it becomes what we call abnormal or the anxiety comes to a point where it becomes overwhelming.
Chris Grace: That is an important point of recognizing, "Ah, is this one of those times where Satan is pushing, or not allowing me to get control of a thought or stop the thought or break this chain?" And so, that's a great sign.
Tim Muehlhoff: And you've said this in the past, Chris, and I hope listeners hear us when we say this. Again, so if you feel like you're having this overwhelming sense of doom. We're not saying the only response is like, warfare prayers. We're also saying go see a doctor.
Tim Muehlhoff: There could be chemical reasons for this. There could be depression reasons for this. So we will always wanna take a wholistic approach to all of these issues which spiritual, physical, emotional, medical.
Tim Muehlhoff: So, please hear us when we say that. All right, another one.
Tim Muehlhoff: This one surprised me, Chris. Violent dreams.
Tim Muehlhoff: You wake up with your heart pounding. Images of your spouse dying or children being separated from you during a violent accident seems so incredibly real, and it produces overwhelming sense of fear. I have a friend of mine who teaches classes on spiritual battle, and he often pulls his students and says, "What are the signs of the demonic?" Every single time, he said violent dreams is one of the top indicators that Satan is literally wanting to scare us, to make us tentative to take away this sense of safety and he uses violent dreams to do it.
Chris Grace: Yeah, and part of that, Tim as well, it's not only violent dreams but it's also the fear that you are about to die or fear that something is bad, about to happen to you. And I do think that it's pretty common at times for people to wake up with anxious dreams.
Chris Grace: I mean, the physiology of the body during the dream allows for this variation and our fear and anxieties, but when it becomes a pattern or a habit, and sometimes if you wake up, you sense that or feel it. And you begin praying and seeking God's comfort and you are comforted, and you are able to go back, that could have very well could have been a sign.
Chris Grace: It's not, every single time. Because, if so, you know, you say every night I wake up kinda anxious and worried, but it is more, is it every night? And is it a pattern? And is there something going on that maybe is not, maybe dealt with or not resolved?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and so we mentioned this book I wrote called "Defending Your Marriage: Innerversity Press". One thing that got me thinking about the book is, as you know, I served as the intern teaching pastor at a church that was looking for a new pastor, and so, Chris.
Tim Muehlhoff: When I was presented with this idea that I was gonna add this to a teaching schedule, that night, Chris, I had a dream that people were coming up our stairs. They weren't there to rob me and Marin, they were there to kill us. And I literally, I'm standing by our door, my heart is pounding like crazy.
Tim Muehlhoff: My hands are made into fists. And I'm gonna attack these people as they come through the door. And Chris, I stood there, I don't know how long and then I thought, "Why didn't the alarm go off? Why didn't the dog bark?" I open the door, there's nobody out there.
Tim Muehlhoff: I go back to bed, again my heart is pounding. Next night, exact same dream. Next night, exact same dream. One of the elders from the church called me and said, "Hey we wanna pray for you as you're making this decision whether to do this," and I said, "Hey, can I mention this dream to you?" He's like, "Yeah."
Tim Muehlhoff: And I mentioned it, he said, "Listen, we're calling the elders together tonight to pray for you. This is spiritual battle."
Chris Grace: Yup.
Tim Muehlhoff: So, I've not had many of those, right? But that was amazing for three nights in a row. It was frightening.
Chris Grace: Yeah, that's a great example, Tim, of a way that you can see that this comes into play in something like a dream state. Let me ask you about another one that I know you've been thinking about, and that is, are different views or perceptions of ourselves and of God?
Chris Grace: Do those get influenced in some of this as a sign? And it seems like, one of the ways we can find that is all of a sudden we start to believe very negative things, not just about other people, but even about God.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: That made everybody's list. Right? Paul says in Romans Chapter 8, he asks this interesting question. If God is for us, who can be against us?
Tim Muehlhoff: His answer is going to be, well, God is absolutely for you, thus nobody can ultimately be against you. So if you start to feel that, you know, I can't trust God anymore, why pray? He's not there for us anymore.
Tim Muehlhoff: Paul would later say, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus." That's Romans 8:39. Well, we feel like, but I have been separate from the love of God. God doesn't love me anymore. Now, listen, doubt is just part [inaudible 00:16:08] of being a Christian, we all go through seasons of doubt. I don't think this is what they're talking about.
Tim Muehlhoff: They're talking about, you have become convinced God is not in your corner and you can't trust him anymore. I think they're saying that's a sign of spiritual battle.
Chris Grace: Yeah, that's a good one. So, we've covered a couple of these, Tim, signs and we have one more, I think is really important, and that's this idea that we now also begin to see how we do this thing called self-talk. This view about the things, I say to myself.
Chris Grace: And so another sign is, what, that the idea that we just don't believe even the best things about, what we used to think about ourselves, or that we are these evil, bad, wrong, unhappy or we just are unable to do or look at other people with compassion. And what do you think?
Tim Muehlhoff: Right, so listen, in every marriage, and certainly with parenting. You just kind of think, "Man, I coulda done that better. I really could've been a better spouse this weekend. I was consumed with business, I was consumed with different things. I overreacted to my child."
Tim Muehlhoff: Okay, that's fine. And that might even be the guilt of the Holy Spirit, saying, "Hey, yeah, man, you were a little bit harsh with your wife, or you were a little bit harsh with the kids." I don't think that's spiritual battle, but I like what Kurt Thomson says.
Tim Muehlhoff: He's a psychologist and an author. He said this. "Guilt is something I feel because I have done something bad. Shame is something I feel because I am bad." So if I begin to think, "I'm the worst husband there is. There is nothing good about me being a husband." Then, I think we're talking about spiritual battle.
Chris Grace: I think that's really important for listeners to understand, too, that difference between guilt and shame. Shame is one of those topics that, and one of those things that comes in and can invade, and it can devastate people. Because what you start doing, Tim, is you start to compare yourself unfavorably with other people.
Chris Grace: You are the worst husband, you are the worst spouse, and then the shame takes over, and I think that can very well... When that starts to be a constant theme, it could very well be a sign of some other things you need to deal with, between something that you're dealing with, but it could also very well be this spiritual attack or battle on you. And so that's one sign to look for.
Tim Muehlhoff: Hey, let me mention one topic that I think we should probably a little bit about, and that is. People might be thinking, "Well, okay, so I can be influenced by Satan, but what about demonic possession? Can Satan ever demonically possess a believer?
Tim Muehlhoff: Now, this we don't have time to go into this, and quite frankly, it's probably above our pay grade. But I think most theologians would agree that certainly influence can happen, oppression can happen. In other words, you've given a lot of footholds to Satan, but can demonization happen?
Tim Muehlhoff: And most theologians agree that, since the Holy Spirit indwells you, if you're a believer, and that'd be John chapter 14, verse 7, 8, 9, 1st Corinthians 6:19-20, it's impossible for a demonic entity to also indwell you and consume you and be in full control over a believer. So, simply put, demons do not have the ability to kick out or evict the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.
Chris Grace: Well, Tim, let's continue this and talk a little bit about, what are some different ways, if it's not possession, if it's not inhabiting or, there is very clearly spiritual influence, right? And we've been talking about that.
Chris Grace: So, after the break, let's talk about that. How does that sound?
Tim Muehlhoff: Sounds great.
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Chris Grace: All right, we're back. Tim, we've been talking about spiritually defending your marriage, the reality of the spiritual battle, and now we've been talking about the actual specifics when it comes to things like signs of spiritual and demonic activity and spiritual influence.
Chris Grace: So, one of the things that happens is we begin to see that there are clearly moments when we feel the presence that there's something that's going on that's not good, that is evil. And other times we're just simply not aware of it. And so, talking about these signs could be very helpful for couples to identify when it is that they're actually facing this.
Chris Grace: What would you say about that?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, so we mentioned just a couple that a lot of people write about spiritual battle from a Christian perspective, talk about it, and we said that it was inappropriate anger, we said that it was impending doom, not believing the best about God anymore, not believing the best about yourself anymore, violent dreams. Things like that.
Tim Muehlhoff: It would be fun, though, to put together an honorable mention list. In other words, it wasn't mentioned by all authors, but these ones regularly came up. And so here are just a couple that we can kind of, just very quickly.
Tim Muehlhoff: It would be Ohio State winning a national championship in football. That wasn't mentioned by everybody.
Chris Grace: No, just one person.
Tim Muehlhoff: Well, yeah, me, but it was person. No, here are just some honorable mentions. A strong aversion to the name of Jesus. Isn't that interesting, Chris?
Chris Grace: Yeah, and I think because for the most part, he was well known and is well known, that name Jesus throughout the world, through all different religions, as a good man, and there are very few people that would identify him in a negative way. They may not recognize him as God or the son of God, or who he was. But, he was even seen by many others in different religions as being a wise, high moral epitome of what is good.
Chris Grace: But when there's some reactions to that name, that seem to be far greater, of almost that biblical notion when they said even the demons know this, when they hear the name of Jesus, and they shudder at that name, right? And that's a reaction that's very different.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, another one was an inability to pray. So, again, that could be caused by a multitude of reasons, but I have met people who have said, "Listen, just, I can't pray anymore. I just feel like I'm in a dark hole, I feel like God's mad at me, I feel like he doesn't wanna listen to me. He answers everybody's prayers but he doesn't answer my prayers, so I don't wanna pray anymore."
Chris Grace: Yeah, I remember my roommate in college, we, I'd only been a Christian for about a year and he talked about it, and it really surprised me and shocked me when he said, he's struggling with prayer and I said, well, what? I don't understand that.
Chris Grace: And he said, "I just feel like my prayers simply bounce off the ceiling. They don't go any further, and so what's the use? And I remember we were looking at him like, oh my gosh, I don't want that to ever happen.
Chris Grace: But he was clearly struggling with this idea of spiritual dryness and that was what he called this inability to feel like he should or could pray, and even if it did, God didn't care or hear.
Tim Muehlhoff: And that's a godo way to put it, Chris. Listen, all of us have spiritual dryness. All of us go through times when I don't feel like praying. I don't feel like going to church, I don't feel like reading my Bible. I don't think we're talking about that.
Tim Muehlhoff: We're saying when you do try to pray, and you do feel like you're hitting a brick and that brick wall just seems to go on and on and on and on. Hey, another one is personal or family problems that do not respond to therapy.
Chris Grace: Right.
Tim Muehlhoff: Again, we're pro therapy. My goodness. But, so we, I've met people, Chris, where I'll say to them when they talk about their marital problems, "Hey, have you thought about therapy?" And they'll say, "Yeah, we've been in therapy for 10 years." Have you thought about switching therapists? "Yeah, we've switched, this is the third one."
Tim Muehlhoff: Well, then I think you start to think, "Okay, this could be demonic activity is why therapy just isn't working at that particularly time."
Chris Grace: Yeah, and there's a whole lot out that is, it could very well just simply be the lack of finding the right drug, the right medication, or the right therapist, and we have to recognize that. But it does make the honorable mention list, because it very well can be a sign. Same with even connecting may be, Tim, with other people in a healthy, intimate way, especially Christians.
Chris Grace: So, that's kind of a subset of that, but the ability to make connections like that or feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness, even in the midst of, you know, a great church setting, where you just don't make those connections. So, that's another one.
Tim Muehlhoff: One that was convicting to me was, physical problems that do not respond to medication. So, let's talk about this for a second. Let's kind of mess things up for a little bit. So, I'm a migraine sufferer. I've been suffering from migraines ever since grad school, to be honest. So that's like, what? That's 15, 16, 17 years.
Tim Muehlhoff: And I've tried everything. I've tried all the medications you can think of, I've actually tried Botox. This has actually been approved by the FDA.
Chris Grace: You are looking a lot younger, by the way.
Tim Muehlhoff: Thank you. And, then God bless people when they hear me talk about migraines. Just, God bless them because they come with all the homeopathic stuff. You know, have you tried peppermint? And yes, I've tried peppermint. Have you tried, okay, so I've tried all these things.
Tim Muehlhoff: And, to be honest, these migraines just continue to work. Now, here's what I think is interesting, Chris. Never once have I thought migraines acquitted with spiritual battle. Never once. I think the apostle Paul would look at me, right?
Tim Muehlhoff: I think Jesus would look at me and say, "Tim, I don't get it. That has never even crossed your mind? That your migraines might be some form of spiritual battle?" And to be honest, Chris, it has never crossed my mind until now, when I think, "Boy, isn't it interesting?"
Tim Muehlhoff: And again, I'm not gonna stop taking medication, but I'm maybe gonna augment that with fighting back spiritually.
Chris Grace: Yeah, and praying specifically for relief, for help. But also the strength and the ability to, when it does hurt, right, or when the pain is there, to be able to respond in a way. I feel the same thing over here.
Chris Grace: Since I was young, same thing. For me, it's been lower back issues, right? And just, constant, It seems like periods of time where it just hurts. It's not easy to see that spiritually or at least the battle there, but I do think it's very important to be able to recognize those kinds of things.
Chris Grace: Even if it's not a spiritual battle, to then by praying and saying, "Lord, I know you know this." I mean, this is what Paul talked about. His thorn in the flesh. He identified it and said, "Lord, if it's possible, remove this. But if not, I know you're giving me the strength and the ability and help me to see the way in which I can use this in some way to bring you glory."
Tim Muehlhoff: Those are hard. You know, one thing We've been saying over and over that's kind of popped up is prayer. Need to pray about this. And, yet, a lot of people are confused like, what's a warfare prayer? Is that a different kind of prayer? Is it like a super prayer?
Tim Muehlhoff: So, maybe that's a topic we should dive into in our next podcast.
Chris Grace: I think it's a great battle approach for the battle, too. So that sounds great. Tim, it's good talking with you.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, interesting stuff.
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. His most recent publication, Defending Your Marriage, speaks to spiritual warfare in marriage and how to equip yourself to defend your relationship. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.